Last Friday I drove to my old stomping grounds in east-central Illinois for a bridge tournament. The locals in Champaign-Urbana have been hosting a Regional event since shortly after I left town. Last year, I went up for five days; this time, only three. The highlight was facing off against two of the top 40 (that’s appropriate, I suppose) all-time leading US masterpoint winners in the semifinals of a knockout event. My team was given a 19.5 point head start in the match due to our relative inexperience (so they had to beat us at least 20), but unfortunately we lost by 25. We gave it a good shot, and I’m cool with that. It was awesome to see all the folks–Karen, Debbie, Martha, Ned, my teammate Mike, among others–again.
On Saturday, I was able to have dinner at an excellent Chinese restaurant with Bruce, my dissertation advisor, and Robin, his wife. We didn’t play in morning events on Saturday or Sunday; Saturday, my partner and I went to the Farmer’s Market in Urbana for breakfast and a walk down the tree-lined brick streets, while on Sunday, I met Bruce for coffee on campus. I have to say these were much better uses of time than being hunched over the table.
I have fond memories of my time in C-U, and I miss living there. I honestly wouldn’t mind going back for an extended period should I get another sabbatical leave. It’s got a fantastic city park system, decent public transportation, and, while clearly growing, it’s not humongous. We’ll see.
What would a trip report be without photos?
The alma mater statue, pictured above, is in front of the gorgeous math building, Altgeld Hall.
One semester when I was a teaching assistant for calculus 2, I had a high school student in my class who was somehow on the weekly schedule to play the bells in the carillon of Altgeld. One time she invited me to watch her play–very interesting. We kept in touch just a little bit over the years; she’s now a professor of linguistics at UCLA.
Lori McKenna has released eight or so albums since 2000. Her star as a songwriter is ascendant: she co-wrote Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” has solo writing credit for Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” and has been winning CMA awards and Grammies for her writing over the last three years.
“Fireflies” became the best-known song from Respond after it appeared as the title track of Faith Hill’s 2005 album. It’s an achingly beautiful look at lost innocence. This is the version on McKenna’s 2001 disk Pieces of Me, and is a little different from the one I know well.
Maybe my favorite of all from Respond is the track that leads off the second disk. It’s another tune that’s DV-themed; the video is clearly low-budget but effective (though plenty dark). After seeing good reviews for Eleven, the album by Deb Pasternak that contains “One Regret,” I’ve placed an order for it. Searching around this week made me aware (at long last) that some of these musicians I’ve enjoyed for so long have done some recording. Like Kris Delmhorst, I’m psyched to hear more of Ms. Pasternak.
Hope you’ve found something to enjoy in this tour of semi-obscurity. It’s a good reminder to me to keep looking out for singer-songwriters hoping to be up-and-comers–they’re definitely out there, and any number of them are incredible talents.
It was so good to listen to Respond on Monday that I’m going to feature some more tunes from it today and Friday. I have to confess that I don’t know much about the artists I’m going to trumpet, but as you’ve come to learn I’m not shy about sharing songs I like.
First, meet Kris Delmhorst. Her contribution, “Weatherman,” is precisely the kind of the folky, acoustic music I was all over starting in the late 80s. Great, soaring chorus. She’s been steadily releasing music over the years (including a disk of Cars covers); I’m definitely going to have imbibe some of it.
Next, Merrie Amsterburg. She was one of the artists on Respond who already had a recording contract at the time. I hear lots of different influences; the intro reminds me a little of “Sunny Came Home.” It’s a great tune.
Catie Curtis had almost a decade of recording behind her by the time this compilation was put together, making her one of the artists who may have helped Respond get a little traction. She’s found some success over the years and has kept on keeping on. Another very nice one.
Finally (for today), I want to highlight two songs for which there’s no YouTube link.
–My cousin, Sandi Hammond, was the one singer-songwriter on Respond who didn’t play guitar. Her piece, “Across the Bay,” displays influences from Joni and Kate (when I first heard it, I thought a little of “The Man with the Child in His Eyes”). Wish I could share it! I’m biased, I know, but I’ve always thought her music was really great.
–The final track is “Purple Ray Gun,” by Alexis Shepard. It’s entirely appropriate for the project, about rescuing a friend from an abusive relationship. Despite its somewhat whimsical title, it’s an affecting piece and I like it quite a bit.
Alexis was tragically killed in an accident (the bicycle she was riding was hit by a truck) a year before Respond was released, and the project was dedicated to her memory. In researching for this post, I learned that her mother and stepfather were anthropologists who did field work in Papua New Guinea; Alexis spent some decent part of her youth growing up among the Chambri there. After Alexis’s death, they and Alexis’s husband went back to mourn with the Chambri, and subsequently wrote a fascinating, moving account of their experience for Amherst College Magazine.
On Friday, two more excellent songs, quite possibly my favorites, from this collection.
So, yeah, today is the anniversary of my birth, the 54th. Thinking back, I certainly don’t recall all the February 13ths of my life, but a few do stand out. One of the more special was in 1980, when I turned 16.
This one was a Wednesday, so it started off with school. It was a sunny day. Weather Underground tells me there was a bit of snow on the ground (which sounds right) and that the high was in the upper 30s. When I got home, I heard on the radio that David Janssen of Fugitive fame had died of a heart attack—it’s hard for me now to believe he was only 48 years old.
My father, as was his wont, had plans for me that afternoon. The two of us drove to Covington, to Schulz and Sons Jewelers, on Madison Avenue. Dad had known the proprietors for years. I was to pick out the wristwatch of my choice (within reason). The timepieces I had to that point had all been pretty cheap; this would definitely be a step up for me. It didn’t take long to gravitate toward a battery-operated Pulsar. I liked its white face, the lack of numbers on the dial, the glow-in-the-dark elements on the hands, the fact that you choose Spanish or English for the day of the week (I was taking Spanish II that year), and most of all, the two-tone wristband. Several links in the band had to be removed because of my fine-boned, thin wrist, but Mr. Schulz got it to fit. Schulz and Sons is still in business, but they’ve moved out of Covington, up the hill and away from the river to Ft. Mitchell. There’s a picture of their Madison Ave. storefront at the link above.
I adored my watch. It suffered lots of wear and tear over the years, but it stayed with me through college, grad school, and beyond. I finally replaced it somewhere around early 96, not too long before Martha and I married. At that point, I’d worn it for half my life. The new one, another Pulsar but with a blue face, didn’t last quite as long, maybe a dozen years.
I think Dad drove us back home at this point (I didn’t test for my permit until a few weeks later), picking up Mom and Amy to drive back north, to Mr. Gatti’s in Crescent Springs. We feasted on pizza; I can’t recall if they were doing a buffet back then or not. By the time we finished, it had to be later than normal for the end of dinner, given the late afternoon shopping foray. I put my coat on to go and stepped outside into the brisk air. I looked up on that clear night, and there it was.
1980 was the year I gained familiarity with the night sky. It began when Ron, one of the husband-and-wife team who served as our youth leaders at Erlanger Christian Church, asked if he could drive down to Walton on clear, moonless nights to go stargazing in our backyard—we had far less light pollution than points north closer to Cincinnati did. Ron had been an amateur astronomer for quite a while; he’d even built his own telescope (I’d guess the mirror was about six inches). He had come out a time or two already that winter. I joined him and got reasonably interested pretty quickly. He taught me about double stars and Messier objects. I quickly picked up the names of most first-magnitude stars. He shared notes he’d taken when he was a boy and inspired me to begin cataloging my own discoveries. As the year progressed, it was great fun to read about things astronomical and follow the changes in what shone overhead: to see the Milky Way in the summer, to learn that the autumn night sky is comparatively dull, to know that two-thirds of the Summer Triangle will still be visible in December, to find out Vega will be the pole star in 11000 years due to precession of the axes.
But on this night, I had just started out and didn’t know much of that yet. I’d already been blown away by Orion, though, and it quickly became (and still is) my favorite constellation. In mid-February, it’s just south of overhead at the time of sorta-early evening we emerged from Mr. Gatti’s, its seven first- and second-magnitude stars more than bright enough to cut through the suburban Cincinnati sky. I-75 actually runs east-west for a few miles where we were, so I was definitely facing south as I looked out over the interstate from the parking lot. I’m certain that moment, that memory from a cold winter’s night when I was a newly-minted sixteen-year-old, plays a big role in my affection for Orion. (I’m glad that Vega isn’t the pole star now—when it is, Orion will pretty much be a Southern Hemisphere-only constellation.) These days I try to make a point of looking for it on my birthday. The weather forecast for tonight makes me think my prospects are at best iffy for this year, though.
A cool watch and a magnificent collection of stars shining down on me. It was a great day.
A postscript: my son turned 16 a little over a year ago. It was my goal to buy him a watch that day. We did go shopping, but nothing they had in stock caught his eye sufficiently. It took close to a year for us to fulfill my mission; sorry, Ben, that it didn’t happen sooner.
It’s also Leslie Feist’s birthday; she’s twelve years my junior. I’ll celebrate our shared day with one of my favorites of hers, named after a small town in her native Nova Scotia. While you can tell from the start that this video’s going to be off-beat, what happens at the 1:00 mark really caught me by surprise the first time I saw it.
Image of Orion by sl1990, courtesy of pixabay.com. Permission granted under CC0 Creative Commons license.
A bit ago, Martha directed my attention to today’s Zits strip in the comics. I’d like to claim prescience, given yesterday’s post, but I know it’s just total coincidence. While this could be the beginning of a resurgence, the world’s reaction is much more likely to be Jeremy’s than his mom’s (when the Beasties came on as we were listening to the 2/7/87 show Saturday evening, Martha asked incredulously, “You like that?”).
Today is the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. When it became apparent a few days before Thanksgiving that his passing was imminent, we couldn’t know which date would be the one we’d wind up noting each year. I had a much better idea about it when I got the call from the Hospice inpatient facility where he was staying late morning on December 5, telling me I should travel north to be with him and Mom. I was in the middle of giving a final, but I’d given warning to colleagues that I might need to leave suddenly.
Mom and I spent the rest of the day offering comfort and kind words, even though Dad had been unresponsive for the better part of two weeks. We got a little sleep that night, but somehow I knew to wake around 4am. His ever shallower breathing stopped about 45 minutes later. I got Mom home just ahead of a storm that dropped several inches of snow.
In observance, I’m putting up a few pictures. The one above was taken on Christmas Day, 2002.
I got a comment on Sunday’s post that led me to learn more about the automation at WLAP-FM in the first half of the 80s. jb was a DJ at various points in the Midwest back in the day (he works part-time now at WMGN in Madison, Wisconsin), and based on his experiences suggested that the vendor for WLAP could have been TM Stereo Rock. A bit of Googling and YouTubing makes me pretty certain that this is indeed the case. Here’s a demo of theirs I found.
This, from early 75, is amusing to me in a particular way. One of the featured hits you hear, Sugarloaf’s “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You,” is a song I missed when popular; however, it was one of the oldies I heard with regularity on WLAP in 82 (another such song will get mention in this coming Saturday’s post).
TM Stereo Rock was run by John Borders, aka Johnny Dark. Originally from Dallas, he was a DJ in a number of cities in the 60s and 70s before settling at KLIF in his hometown and then eventually starting this service. It’s Johnny Dark’s voice you hear on the demo, and he sounds an awful lot like what I remember from WLAP. I recall Ralph Hacker telling me that their vendor was from Texas, additional evidence for TM Stereo Rock being the provider. (A correction on my earlier post: I was wrong about when “the voice” announced the current hits–usually it was after the second song, as on the demo, though occasionally it would come between.) Mr. Borders passed away in March 2016.
It was incredibly satisfying to receive additional education about this distant part of my radio listening past. Thanks much for the tip, jb!
My son grew up terrified of dogs, and we never knew why. He’d insist that his friends put them behind a closed door or gate before going in their home, and encountering one in a public setting would send him scurrying. Then, in one afternoon in August 2013, that all changed.
We were holding a back-to-school event at our church; the local Humane Society was invited to show off their adoptables. Our cat had been put down back in the spring; Ben was asking as we drove there about a kitten, or maybe even two: “My friend told me it’s better if they have a playmate,” he offered helpfully. We made no promises, and a quick look over what our friend from the Humane Society had brought showed there were a few kittens and three or so dogs.
Martha and I were individually busy working games and trying to make sure things in our spheres ran as smoothly as possible. I wasn’t paying any attention to what Ben was doing, and was pretty surprised when Martha came over about halfway through the event to point out that Ben was walking one of the dogs! She grabbed her camera to capture the moment. Before the afternoon was over, he was petting and giving this 60+ pound collie mix all sorts of loving.
Our friends at church knew Ben’s history, and of course many of them were now telling us, “You have to take this dog!” We weren’t convinced, but by mid-week, the idea of taking him on for a couple of weeks “as a trial” began to seem inevitable. Four years ago today, we welcomed Buddy (he came named– a bit unfortunate, since this was also one of our nicknames for Ben!) into our home, and he’s become one of the family. Based on how I know my son, I figured there would be a breakthrough moment of some sort eventually. I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to share and enjoy life with the dog responsible for it.
I’ve been posting stories about music and its impact on my life to Facebook for about a year or so. Wondering if maybe a blog isn’t a better format for my ramblings on that and other subjects. So, here we are. If all goes according to plan I’ll be mixing in many of my old FB posts along with new material in the coming months. Enjoy.